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By September 23, 2015 8 Comments Read More →

My close call with a sex-obsessed cult

Cult turn right

(Photo by Kevin Dooley)

Editor’s note: The Lovefraud reader “Seekeroflight” sends us the following story related to her almost being dragged into a cult. In Lovefraud’s view, cult leaders are sociopaths on steroids, and engage in mind control over cult members.

There is a story from my past that I’ve wanted to share somewhere publicly, and I am thinking this might be a good place to do so. It doesn’t deal with a sociopath directly, but it is a type of situation that those of us vulnerable to sociopaths also may be vulnerable to. I certainly was. It also deals with a specific group which is incredibly dangerous, but of whom there is almost zero knowledge of within the United States even though they are practically at our doorstep.

I had a double major in undergrad, my second major being in Spanish. I had to do a study abroad and had an opportunity to spend a month in Mexico with one other classmate in a very tiny program. We shared the same host family and got pretty close to them, especially to our host mom. My classmate and I went back for a short visit over the winter when we were on a trip to another part of Mexico, and the following summer I decided to go back for two months this time to study further. By myself.

Of course, I went back to the same host family, who welcomed me in. I had kept in frequent contact with my host mom, and she had in many ways really become a mother figure to me. My relationship with my own mother was severely dysfunctional, and I was so thankful to have this mother figure in my life.

Being the only student this time gave me an opportunity to see the family a little more intimately, but also caused me to be more isolated. My host mom, let’s call her “Maria,” shared with me a good deal of private information about her past and her family. Her husband was an alcoholic, but in recovery. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous, and she attended Al-Alon because she is codependent. How great, I thought, that they had this support in their lives! She ranted and raved about how good these groups were, how they had changed their lives. But, she told me, they weren’t like normal 12-step groups. They were “grupos de cuarto y quinto paso,” or “groups of the fourth and fifth step.”

12-step program

I had some limited knowledge of 12-step work, as I had attended an Overeaters Anonymous group a couple summers prior when I was in outpatient treatment for anorexia. It wasn’t a bad experience. My host mom knew of much of my history of depression and anxiety, and she started strongly encouraging me to go to Al-Anon with her. Of course I would go! I was so grateful to have this caring, concerned mother figure in my life. I would have done just about anything she suggested, to be honest. And I did, actually. She convinced me to go off my antidepressants during that time too. (You know, b/c she’s a doctor and all … what was I thinking!??)

I went to a couple meetings with her. They had a little bit different feel than the OA meetings I had gone to in the states, but I brushed it off. Chalked it up to the language barrier, being in my second language, and cultural differences. I went to a couple meetings with her and her husband, which were not strictly Al-Anon — they included those who attended AA, NA, SA, and other of the various “fourth and fifth step” groups. I thought it was a bit odd to have these bigger meetings all mixed together. Maybe a conflict of interest, putting addict and codependent in the same meetings?

Religious overtones

I thought it also odd the somewhat religious overtones that these meetings took. My experience with OA was that a lot of people talked about God or a higher power, but there was always an effort to not make the meetings decidedly “Christian” in nature. It was the opposite with these meetings in Mexico — they were unapologetically Christian, with what felt like an understanding that anything outside of Christianity would be rejected or viewed as evil. This certainly rubbed me the wrong way, but I convinced myself to keep an open mind. Different culture, I told myself. Can’t expect them to automatically value religious diversity just because we do in the States, I told myself. And I certainly didn’t want to offend my dear host mom by voicing my discomfort with these “minor details.”

Another interesting aspect of these groups — they had these “retreats” once a month. My host parents would both go, as sponsors of people new to the group. New people had to pay to go — it wasn’t free. She said the retreats were secret. Those who went weren’t supposed to tell anyone else what happens there. But she divulged a few details anyway. She likened it to “camping,” saying that they were several hours away from the city at an old hacienda in the middle of nowhere. She said it was a very powerful spiritual retreat, where people would have visions of God and angels. People came back forever changed, healed of their mental and emotional afflictions. And she said something about this cathartic activity they did, hitting things with a plastic baseball bat.

Maria wanted me to have an opportunity to experience this, to maybe get some healing and resolution for some of my issues. I was pretty desperate for some help too … my battle with depression was long standing and severe. Going to an actual one of their retreats wasn’t an option due to the limited amount of time I was to remain in the country and because of my language barrier, but Maria decided to arrange with her sponsor kind of a modified retreat for me. I was nervous but kind of honored that she cared enough about me to try to do such a thing!

Sexual history

So Maria gave me the rundown on how this was going to work. What they usually do at the retreat was sit down and write out their fourth step, which is an inventory of their lives. She gave me a paper a week ahead of time to guide me in doing this, as it would take me extra time to write this out in my second language. The paper gave me specific questions to answer. Some talked about traumatic events in my childhood, abuse, etc, but most of the questions had a clear focus on anything sexual. They basically wanted a complete sexual inventory of my entire life. A DETAILED inventory.

Um … Really?

That didn’t exactly mesh with ANYTHING I had ever known about 12-step groups. But, I thought, it’s not like I had much to write. Yes, there was some abuse in my childhood. I could write about that. And maybe it would be healing to do so. But as far as anything sexual outside of that, I was about the most inexperienced person in the entire world. I had been kissed two times ever, by two boys, and held hands. Big friggen deal. (I was also very much in the closet, lol … that kinda helped things a little there! And Lord knows I wasn’t touching that subject with a ten-foot pole.)

I took my time, wrote a few pages, with as much detail as I could, which wasn’t much at all. I wrote some stuff that was highly personal and difficult, but, yeah, I was a virgin. My sexual history was pretty boring. And I waited for the day of my retreat. All I knew was that I would do a “fifth step” and read what I wrote to two sponsors (Maria and her sponsor, “Carlos” let’s call him), and then there would be some cathartic exercise or something, and Ta Da! I’d be healed. Was I nervous? Yes. Did I have any idea what I was walking into? Not at all.

Coffee and tea

Maria drove me around town, until I was good and disoriented. No idea where we were, I didn’t recognize anything and certainly wouldn’t have been able to trace my steps. We met Carlos at what seemed to be a vacant apartment. Inside there was a table and chairs, coffee pot and cups, and a bed in one room. That was pretty much it.

Not that there weren’t already like a million red flags in this story, but upon arriving I got my first HUGE SUPER RED FLAG. I have a neurological movement disorder. I shake, especially my hands. Sometimes it’s practically undetectable, othertimes it is significant and debilitating. At that time my symptoms were not well managed at all, and I rarely drank caffeine because it greatly exacerbated my symptoms. I was already nervous, which equaled more shaking, and I had brought a bottle of water with me. So when Maria offered me coffee, I politely declined.

Then Carlos offered me tea. Again, I declined. I thanked them but explained caffeine makes me shake worse, and showed them my bottle of water. I was fine. But they kept pushing the coffee and tea on me. Like, for a long time. I thought it was the strangest thing. I mean, who the heck cared that much if I had coffee or tea?!! It was really starting to piss me off! Finally when they realized I wasn’t going to change my mind, Maria gave Carlos this look of concern, which really concerned ME. It was like she was asking him, crap, now what are we going to do?

Interrogation

I should have just stopped it all there. I was so confused. It just didn’t make any sense to me why on earth that would even be an issue. But I didn’t know where I was within the city, I was in a foreign country, and I was pretty dependent on my host mom, both because of my status as a student there, and emotionally because I had grown quite close to her. I didn’t want to upset her, and I knew she had gone to some trouble to arrange this whole thing for me. I certainly didn’t want to embarrass her in front of Carlos. Nor did I want to embarrass myself. Carlos was highly respected in their group, kind of a leader. So despite being just stubborn enough to refuse their stupid beverages, I didn’t leave. I didn’t feel like I had a choice in that matter.

So we began. I read them what I wrote. It was not very long! Then … the interrogation begin. That, unfortunately, was much longer. And completely unexpected. What I wrote wasn’t good enough. They wanted to know more. They didn’t believe that what I wrote was EVERYTHING there was to write. So they just asked me what they wanted to know … much to my horror.

“Have you ever done this with a guy? With a girl?”

“Have you ever thought about it?”

“What kinds of things have you fantasized about doing?”

“Have you touched yourself here? Or there? Or like this? What about like that?”

Deer in the fricking headlights … I didn’t even know what to do. Why would this information even be relevant? It was degrading as hell and confusing. I answered as honestly as I could, because I didn’t see any other option. I was stuck there. Then the questions got worse …

“Have you ever molested anyone?”

“What thoughts do you have about other people?”

“Tell me about when your father slept with you.”

“Your dad raped you, didn’t he? Why won’t you tell us what happened?”

“So was it your grandfather? Who did this? Stop protecting him.”

Mind you, my father never raped me. Nor did my grandfather. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They kept arguing with me, trying to get me to admit to things happening that never, ever happened. Questioning me about just the most absurd scenarios, and then scolding me when I denied them. I was like, look, I have had enough bad stuff in my life. I am not going to make up more stuff that didn’t happen!!

I didn’t understand why this stuff was important. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t believe me. The only thing I DID understand right then was that whatever it was they were trying to do, I was failing. Miserably.

Into the bedroom

Next phase … into the bedroom we went. They wanted me to lie on this bed and kick and scream and beat up the mattress with a towel.

Um …

Let me explain something. I come from a very conservative ethnic and religious minority. My dad was raised in this group and left, so I’m second generation from it. Both sides of my family come down from this group. We are conditioned to be very non-emotive. And non-violent. Women in particular are not to show anger. There are few things more horrifiying and embarrassing to me than trying to do what they were asking me to do. I couldn’t do it. I just lay there and cried. I failed so miserably.

I was embarrassed

Things were never the same between my host mom and me after that day. I was so humiliated and ashamed that I couldn’t do what she wanted me to do, when she had arranged this whole thing specially for me. I wondered how messed up I must really be, that this group which supposedly cures people with horrible problems couldn’t do anything for mine. I was suicidal. I wanted desperately to call my dad and have him fly me back home two weeks early, but then I would have been even more of a failure, and how on earth would I explain to him what had just happened?! How did I even end up in that situation? What is wrong with me that I went all the way to Mexico to study and somehow ended up in some sort of crazy sex-obsessed cult?!

When I finally went back home, back to the states, I didn’t tell anyone for awhile what happened. Too embarrassed. I had to write a paper on my experience. I got an F. I was supposed to do a presentation. I couldn’t. Thankfully I had done these things the summer before, so I still had met the requirements for my second major. And I did well in the actual classes that I took while in Mexico. I briefly talked to my then therapist about it, but not in much detail. I was too embarrassed, and I wanted to protect my host mom too because I knew whatever the heck that whole thing was, it was messed up, but I didn’t feel like she had bad intentions in what happened. She is just all wrapped up in this very bizarre, very sick group.

Researching the group

A couple years later I had talked about my experience a little more to a few other very trusted people, including an older woman I consider to be like a mentor. One day she mentioned to me that she read an article about this AA group in the Washington, D.C. area that was a bit of an offshoot of traditional AA and was a little controversial. She wanted me to read it. The group had nothing to do with what I experienced in Mexico, but there were some similarities. It made me want to do some research on the groups from Mexico, wondering if perhaps there were articles written on them somewhere too and I could get some background information to make sense of my experience. After my initial attempts at research turned up nothing, I had the bright idea to search in SPANISH rather than English. Duh. Sure enough, I found a handful of news articles about them.

I was horrified by what I found.

It seems there are many of these groups in Mexico, especially around Mexico City, but they seem to not be in any other country. Some groups and their retreats are worse than others, but many people have been so traumatized by their time in these groups that they have attempted or committed suicide.

The retreats — people are bussed out to the middle of nowhere, having no idea what to expect. The conditions at the locations of the retreats are typically deplorable. No heat, little light, broken furniture. In the middle of the desert, so there is nowhere for them to run. They are trapped. They have to sit and write out their inventory and read it to their sponsors, like I did, and they are pressured to add things that never happened. Some of these things are horrible. People have come out of these groups convinced that they raped their own children, for example, when it never happened. They are abused verbally and even sometimes physically, deprived of food, sleep, water, and given a steady stream of coffee.

Something in the coffee

A psychiatrist who was interviewed for one of these articles, who has as clients many people who have come out of these groups, said that he believes they put something in the coffee.

???!!! Well…that explained that mystery. It also explained why people had these spiritual experiences of seeing God and angels. Hallucinations maybe? It also explained why I failed so dang miserably at the whole experience. Forget about “don’t drink the Kool Aid.” Don’t drink the damn coffee!! I feel like I dodged a huge bullet on that one.

It seems there is some financial gain to be had with these groups, especially with what they charge for these retreats. Also, can you imagine the control the group leaders would have over each person, after that person told them all their most horrible, shameful secrets?

One article talked about a mother whose teenage son killed himself after going to a retreat. He left her a letter explaining his experience. She received threats from the group to remain quiet about the situation.

Like dealing with a sociopath

I don’t feel like this experience was necessarily with a sociopath. I don’t think Maria is a sociopath. Carlos, I don’t know. I don’t know him well enough. Perhaps he is, or perhaps he is just wrapped up in a sick group like Maria. Regardless, this group is quite cult-like, which has similarities to dealing with a sociopath.

I know, after reading this website, that it is very common for people to have multiple experiences with sociopaths. Sometimes multiple horrible, bizarre, unbelievable experiences. But I still feel like a freak. I feel like my experiences are the most unbelievable of them all. And it’s not like these are my only bad experiences! The good thing is that I know so much more now, and I will never, ever let myself end up in such ridiculous situations again. I can thank my spath for that one

Below are links to some of the very few articles about this group, for anyone who can read in Spanish…

http://archivo.eluniversal.com.mx/ciudad/77355.html

http://www.umbral.mx/noticia.php?idNoticia=1118

https://lastresyuncuarto.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/lydia-cachocuarto-y-quinto-paso-%C2%BFviolencia-sanadora/

https://webmaster316.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/cuarto-y-quinto-paso-de-a-a-y-su-violencia-%C2%BFsanadora/

“seekeroflight”



8 Comments on "My close call with a sex-obsessed cult"

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  1. Seeker of light – what a traumatic story. It sounds like your “host mother” was brainwashed, under the control of the cult leader. Maybe Carlos, maybe someone else.

    I definitely believe that cult leaders are sociopaths, although their followers often are not.



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  2. Canuck says:

    Regarding cults I found the following movie, found on Netflix, most appreciated.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1865425/



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  3. Stargazer says:

    When I was in grad school many years ago, I was studying counseling from an East-West perspective. As part of the curriculum, I was exposed to many different kinds of spiritual groups and retreats. I did one called a “convivial” or “living together” which consisted of a weekend with a group of people doing intensive healing. The leader was a guy named Pablo, who was known to be some very great healer from Mexico. The cost was $200 which was enormous to me then. Fortunately, there was none of the weird sexual stuff. But we did all kinds of exercises where we were supposed to cathart rage. In one, we went into the woods and got back to back with another person and yelled “get off of my back”. In another one, we hit a rolled up towel down in front of us and yelled “Fuck you” to the person in front of us we were making eye contact with. We also did some drawing and artwork. At the end of the weekend I had gotten nothing from the workshop except a severe case of poison oak. I asked for a refund, and they gave it to me.

    I felt, too, like a miserable failure at the time. Pablo visited our school a few times to give talks. One day, he was sitting in a circle with me and my classmates. I was feeling particularly centered at the time and just grateful to be where I was. Pablo looked directly at me and asked what I was experiencing. I told him how grateful I felt just to be there. He immediately got up and hugged me. At the time I thought it was special. But in retrospect, I was dressed in a skimpy outfit with no bra (my hippie years), and wonder if his motives were a little more sinister. I will never know the the answer to that. But suffice it to say that none of my dealings with him ever helped me work through any of my own depression.

    I have also experienced other forms of therapy where I was instructed to like face up on a bed and kick and scream. I found some of these sessions surprisingly effective because I had so much bottled up rage, and I trusted the therapist/s at the time. When I was in grad school, I heard of so-called shamans who had people ingest peyote as part of a healing ritual. I never ventured that far, though at the time, but it sounded interesting to me at the time because I was so desperate to be healed. After reading the article here, I’m glad I didn’t do it.

    But the thing that really creeps me out about your cult experience was all the creepy sexual stuff and the sexual allegations. I’ve had a few therapists ask me if I have any secrets, as if they were interrogating me for some sort of creepy sexual stuff. I really had no secrets, so again, I felt like a failure in being unable to produce a secret on demand.

    Interesting now to hear about these cults because I’m sure some of the stuff I got involved in in grad school bordered on being like this.



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  4. unmotheredmother says:

    Hi Seekeroflight,

    I just registered on Lovefraud so that I could respond to your experience.

    I would like to offer some other alternatives to Donna’s ideas above. I was ritually abused by my mother’s cult until I was about seven years old (when she and I were forced to move, thank God) so I speak from some experience.

    While it is possible that Maria was brainwashed by Carlos or someone else, being brainwashed is not an excuse for committing felonies. This women is a sex offender of the most dangerous sort. I am sure you were not their first or last victim. She wanted to hurt you. It is possible the two of them were planning to profit from the whole experience by molesting and raping you while you were drugged, and then photographing and/or videotaping the experience so that they could sell the pornography. You would have had little or no memory of it. (Thank God you didn’t drink their poison!) This is what these “sex cults” typically do. It is also what was done to me as a child in the 70’s. And to these people it’s just a big, fun game. They laugh all the way to the bank.

    It could also be that Maria is a sociopath. And that Carlos was the brainwashed one. Or that they are both sociopaths. In my experience, in a criminal “couple” where there is only one sociopath, it is often the more charming, persuasive and likable one who is the sociopath. Sociopaths can also come off as modest, sweet, and down-home.

    My mother was an extremely charming “southern belle”. A well-loved elementary school teacher. She was also a sex-offender who, had she been convicted of her crimes, would have spent some years in prison. But no one would have guessed. Now she’s an old lady who volunteers in a soup kitchen. But behind closed doors, still as nasty as ever. (At least she always was, I don’t talk to her any more.)

    Please never allow that woman or her husband into your life again. No letters, phone calls, nothing. Even if she leaves Carlos AND the cult. She is an extremely dangerous individual–to you and to your loved ones. And do not fall for the PITY PLAY, this is their favorite tactic. (Read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door.)

    And don’t beat yourself up for being their victim. She preyed upon your desire to heal, your desire to become a better person, your desire to bond, your desire for love and family. She exploited your beautiful, human qualities. Everyone here at Lovefraud has had it happen to them, too. You will go through the stages of grief as you realize that the woman you called “Mom” did not love you. (These kinds of people lack the ability to love, but they sure do a good job of imitating loving people.) Right now it seems like you are in the denial stage, but the anger will probably be coming up. Don’t feel bad about that either. You have every right to be TOTALLY PISSED!

    I send you my warmest, heartfelt hopes as you embark on your journey of healing. Thank you for sharing your story. It will help a lot of people.

    P.S. You are not a freak, but I know that feeling myself. You are a really strong person.



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  5. seekeroflight says:

    unmotheredmother,

    Thank you so much for your insight…

    There are so many strange things about this situation and about Maria and her family. Like, Maria told me that one of their rules is that the secret stuff they tell their sponsors they can’t even tell their own spouses. That always seemed ridiculous to me. I’m sorry, but if I suffered some sort of childhood abuse, I would want my spouse to know about it. There were other strange things about that summer. I was the only student and had two professors. One, a female (who I have gotten back in contact with thanks to facebook) insisted that we have class either in a separate location or at her house in her dining room. My host mom wanted my bedroom to also serve as my classroom, and that is where my other professor (a male) met with me for class. My female professor didn’t think that was an appropriate classroom setting…obviously… This male professor was a single unemployed lawyer (the unemployed part is common there of course), and he continuously asked me to go to other events with him. I declined repeatedly. I didn’t dislike him, and he was an excellent teacher, but it felt like he had too much interest in me and I wasn’t going to go there. Not OK. My host mom criticized me for turning him down all the time, and guilted me into going to his house (he lived with his parents) for dinner one night. One day I was kind of complaining about the awkwardness of this to my female prof, and she threw a fit. She was horrified by the whole thing, and she decided to call my host mom and tell her the entire thing was inappropriate. I got LECTURED, omg. I was NOT to tell other people what went on in that house, or talk about any of the family to anyone outside of the family. It was horrible. So the one person at that point that I still felt comfortable with, my female prof, I was pretty much warned not to talk to about anything not related to my class subject matter.

    At the same time, Maria told me all about family issues. Her husband’s previous affairs. Told me how she and Carlos were actually super attracted to one another even though she was married and he was engaged, and Maria’s husband hated Carlos and Carlos’s fiance hated Maria. And one of Maria’s best friends, also a member of the group and a female, was like obsessed with Maria. I got the very strong impression that this woman was in love with Maria. And Maria told me all sorts of childhood abuse that only she was subjected to, nobody else in the family was abused like that. I now wonder if those were stories she was brainwashed to believe, things that never happened. She told me those stories, but her husband didn’t even know them. Is it just me, or is that super bizarre???

    Part of what has been so difficult about this is I do not know a single other person who has affiliation with this group. Nobody even knows they exist, and I can’t even direct most people to the websites about this group b/c of the language difference.

    “Right now it seems like you are in the denial stage, but the anger will probably be coming up. Don’t feel bad about that either. You have every right to be TOTALLY PISSED!”

    It’s hard to be angry b/c I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand the purpose for this crap. I don’t even know how to categorize my experience, other than to say they were very cultlike and it was traumatic. I probably am a bit in denial especially about Maria’s role in this…



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  6. unmotheredmother says:

    Hello again Seekeroflight,

    Ia am happy to share with you my insights! In fact, after reading your story, I almost felt an obligation to tell you what I thought. But even so, I can’t claim that I have the answers for you, of course. Those answers can only be found in your own heart and soul. Ultimately, that is where I had to search in order to find my own painful answers. It’s almost like performing surgery on yourself, it’s so, so painful. At least it was for me. But ultimately there is relief and some peace when you start to find the truth.

    It seems like you have a lot of question marks popping up about Maria’s words and behavior. I had those same kind of question marks popping up when I would reflect upon some of the things my mother said and did. I also had other experiences with sociopaths, including a man I dated over twenty years ago, and these people also caused those question marks to start popping up. Those things that just make your mind reel, because they don’t make any sense whatsoever. You’re just left in a maze of confusion, scratching your head, going, HUH? But over time, if your start to study the sociopathic personality (read, read, read), the puzzle pieces will start to fall into place. While you may never be able to understand HOW anyone could do those things, you might be able to understand WHY. And ultimately, the WHY just comes down to controlling you. Simply put, sociopaths replace self-control (doing good) with controlling others (doing evil).

    Reading over what you wrote last night, I intuited a lot of those hallmark sociopathic traits in Maria. But in the end, it really isn’t necessary to label her with a disorder. All that is necessary to know is that a person who tries to control you is toxic. That helped me a lot in the beginning, when I hesitated to label my abusers. I simply said, “They are bad for me. That’s all I need to know.” Over time, I came to see that not only were they bad for me, they were just plain bad.

    Please take good care of yourself, Seekeroflight!



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  7. satya says:

    Who knew your neurological disorder would be such a blessing! I can’t imagine how traumatized you could have been if they had been able to drug you. I think they’re ALL pretty creepy. Maria sounds like some kind of procurer. Did they often have exchange students at their house? Becoming like your mother after 1 visit? Sounds extremely suspicious. It seems to me like they were looking for the young and naive, and especially being in a foreign country not speaking your native tongue, very vulnerable. I wouldn’t protect her, I would let the word get out, especially to the program you were in so hopefully more students won’t be staying with them.



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  8. seekeroflight says:

    Thanks so much to everyone who has responded.

    Maria definitely was controlling. And she kind of targeted me to come back that second year. She offered free room and board. For two months. I just had to get there and pay the cost of the classes. There was a difference between her the first summer when there was another student and the second summer. She encouraged me to go off my meds (This was an issue for me otherwise as well, as a church I went to for a time had previously convinced me of the same thing…) She criticized what I ate as being too unhealthy (I was a recovering anorexic and still pretty thin, so I am not sure how a snack of cheese and crackers was that horrible for me). There was a lot of controlling behavior with her.

    The program was pretty much defunct at that point. There used to be a good sized program every summer but the director of the program died before my first summer there. Maria kind of arranged things for the other student and I, and then just for me. I think I was the last student. Maria now is divorced and lives in the states with her daughter last I knew.



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